Saturday, December 24, 2016

"Contending for the faith!"

Day #360

Scripture Reading:  Jude ... 

The Church was in its "infancy" when Jude and the other apostles wrote the letters of the New Testament.   It was a time like no other in the history of the world.  So many prophecies from the Old Testament Scriptures had been fulfilled in Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah.  And now, following His resurrection and ascension, Jesus had fulfilled another promise:  the pouring out of God's Spirit into the hearts of Jews and Gentiles alike.  Not only had God kept His promise to Abraham to make of him a great nation, but now He was fulfilling His promise that in His "Seed" all nations on earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3).  Jesus was now building His Church through the proclamation of the Gospel and the work of His Spirit.

The apostles clearly understood this fact as they addressed their letters.  "Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, to those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ:  Mercy, peace and love by yours in abundance" (verses 1-2).  Remember that these words were written during the first few decades following Christ's death and resurrection.  Persecution against those who believed in Jesus was intense and false teachers were already leading many astray, trying to make a profit by pretending to be disciples of Jesus, promising people eternal life and miracles in exchange for worldly possessions (not unlike today!).  Jude was eager to write to his brothers and sisters in Christ "about the salvation we share," but there was something else on his heart ...

"I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (verse 3).  False teachers had slipped in among them and were already leading many astray.  That is true today as well.  His description of them is fitting:  "They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign Lord" (verse 4).

These men (and women) talk about Jesus, claim to believe in Jesus and even use verses from God's Word to deceive people into believing they are disciples of Jesus.  They do not talk about sin and its consequences, or about the need for repentance and faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness.  There is hardly a mention of the cross and what Jesus did there.  Instead, these declare that Jesus loves everybody, no matter what, and that the worst problem people have is not knowing God loves them.  They "sell" miracles and salvation to those who are gullible enough to "sow a seed" into THE(IR) kingdom.  They leave people in their sin and call it "grace."

Where the true Gospel is preached the Holy Spirit convicts the heart and mind of the need for a Savior, for one to pay the penalty for sin in our place, and points always to Jesus Christ, the only Mediator, our Redeemer, our Savior and Lord.  How sadly pathetic these false teachers are in their vain attempts to make a name for themselves, all the while claiming to love Jesus so much.  God will be their Judge.  Jude explains in verses 5-7 that God knows how to judge the ungodly and that false teachers will not escape His just judgment.  "They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire" (verse 7).  

As Jude explains in verse 11, they are like Cain, Balaam and Korah, who all rebelled against God and whose hearts were focused on themselves.  "These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm - shepherds who feed only themselves" (verse 12).  We must pray for discernment today, for such "teachers" are numerous in the church.  These supposed teachers take advantage of the widespread biblical illiteracy plaguing the church in our modern world where most people in churches take no time to read and study God's Word and so remain vulnerable to every wind of doctrine.  They tell people to listen to the “Spirit,” and ignore the very Word the Spirit inspired to bring God’s people to spiritual maturity in Christ.

These false teachers throw stones at those who proclaim the true Gospel.  "These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage" (verse 16).   Apart from the knowledge of God's truth that is found only in His Word, people are easily deceived.  As Peter warned his readers of the "scoffers" who would come, so Jude does the same (verse 18).  "These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit" (verse 19).  

"But YOU, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.  Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life" (verses 20-21).   God's grace brings salvation, from beginning to end.  Those who are true believers know we have been "called" by the Spirit, "loved by God the Father" and are "kept by Jesus Christ" (verse 1).  I didn't choose Jesus, He chose ME, gave me His Spirit, by whose power I was born again, confessed my sin, repented, believed in Jesus and am saved.  HE receives ALL the glory ... I receive NONE!  

If that describes you, then you are one of Jesus' sheep and you will heed His warning to watch out for false teachers.  You will never stop confessing your need for God to continue the work He has begun in you.  You will never rely on yourself or your own power, but always on the One who lives within You by His Spirit.  You will feed on God's Word because you know you need to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ in order to mature and to be equipped to lead others to Christ for forgiveness and life.

And you who have received God's mercy, peace and love in abundance, will continually rejoice in the truth with which Jude concludes his brief letter: "To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy - to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen" (verses 24-25).  

"My Father in heaven, I am not ashamed to declare that I need You.  You have shown me mercy, peace and love through the gift of Your Son, and by the power of Your Spirit alone You have made me alive!!  Give me grace each day to find all the wisdom I need in Your Word and help me to discern those who are false teachers, who have slipped in among Your people today.  To You, Father, I commit my heart, my mind, my soul, my life, giving You the praise and thanks for my salvation, trusting that You will complete what You have begun.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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